Last month, Post and Courier columnist Brian Hicks penned starkly contrasting, back-to-back columns. One useful, one not.
“This is going to come as a huge shock, but South Carolina has flunked ‘corruption risk’ on its report card,” Mr. Hicks wrote. “We are one of eight states nationwide that received a failing grade in the State Integrity Investigation done by the Center for Public Integrity and some other groups. We got a 57.” More bluntly, South Carolina ranked as the 6th most corrupt state in America.(2)
Hicks cites “loophole-ridden campaign finance laws,” a toothless Ethics Commission, “a pension fund in shambles,” and a “legislature that has no control over a large part of the budget…” This worthy column includes the observation, “The problem here, despite all this baloney about transparency, is that this state is set up to allow a maximum amount of monkey business. The system has very few checks and balances, and we need them.”(3)
Here’s another example he didn’t mention. In 2011, The Nerve, a website dedicated to government accountability, wrote that the State Ports Authority (SPA) picked up a $29,000 tab for a three-day trip to Panama in September, 2010. “Besides covering most of the trip costs for the seven-member legislative group, which included two staffers, and eight Ports Authority staffers and board members, the Ports Authority also paid airfare and hotel costs for a representative of a Washington lobbying firm … and a senior vice president at the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce.” The other private parties paid their own expenses. The documents reveal that $1,600 [was] spent by the group on one dinner at a private club in Panama and another $1,440 was spent on books about the Panama Canal for the 24-member group. How do we know this? Because more than 100 pages of documents was provided to The Nerve by the SPA thanks to the SC Freedom of Information Act.
The Nerve noted that two lawmakers who went on the trip – Rep. Bill Sandifer, R-Oconee, and then-Rep. Harry Cato, R-Greenville – spent an extra day in Panama. The other three lawmakers who traveled with the group were Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley; Sen. Phillip Shoopman, R-Greenville; and Rep. David Weeks, D-Sumter. Grooms, chairman of the oversight commission that year, did repay $1490.47 in travel expenses from his “Grooms for Senate” account. “All five lawmakers are or were members of the Ports Authority Review and Oversight Commission, which is required to screen board candidates and conduct oversight reviews of the authority at least once every two years.”(4)
Then Mr. Hicks followed his useful first column with an officious diatribe, “When did we get holier than thou?”
“Charleston is no longer a sweet Southern belle — it’s an ornery old man,” Hicks claims, before railing against “some folks”…who “don’t like college kids downtown, can’t have tuk-tuks roaming the street, and they sure don’t want those infernal cruise ships. If they could send the horse carriages to the glue factory, they would. “And now, one single, solitary cigar bar is one too many.” Implying “snootiness,” Hicks attacks what he labels as the “‘No’ crowd,” saying “lately it’s just getting intolerant, and that’s no recipe for a vibrant city. During the cruise ship dustup, Mayor Joe Riley blasted these people who are against everything, pointing out that this is a living, breathing, working city — not a neighborhood.”
“Meanwhile, folks on the peninsula can’t even carry their wine with them on the Art Walk anymore,” Hicks rattles on, “Sure, the ‘No’ crowd wants to ban smoking and drinking, but they don’t even like tourists with black socks and sandals.”(5)
Hick’s unsupportable gross generalization is that anyone who opposes any issue downtown–say uncontrolled cruise ship activity–is, ipso facto, against everything. If that were true, the reverse would be true. People like Mayor Riley, who are all for cruise ships, must favor all the other stuff Hicks seems to want. But Mayor Riley has raised safety concerns about the doorless Tuk-tuks, noting that they “would contribute to a theme park atmosphere,” adding the police department is also against them.(6) The mayor is no fan of carting drinks from gallery to gallery during the Art Walk, either; he favors the uniform enforcement of the open container laws.(7)
Is it possible that people aren’t as simplistic as Mr. Hicks imagines?
It’s unfortunate that a columnist who advocates for government accountability would resort to a smoke screen of fustian and fantasy to belittle those whose views he opposes. We need only look at the national scene to see how unproductive that is. Charleston is at a crossroads. Rather than demean those daring to participate in public policy issues, we should encourage them. We’ve witnessed the SPA’s brutish tactics to propel a flawed proposal that squanders 30-acres of the most valuable downtown waterfront for stagnant parking lots and an expensive cruise terminal to be used mostly so people can sail away and spend money elsewhere. With such important issues facing Charleston, honest discussions are all too uncommon–instead, establishment posturing abounds.
On Good Friday, the Post and Courier’s front page headline read, “Growing Pains, Area faces hurdles in absorbing new residents.”(8) Metro Charleston is the eighth fastest growing area in the country, with 17,000 new residents in just over a year. Growth is changing Charleston’s future. The organizers of the “Bridge Run,” now capped at 40,000 participants, just learned that they can’t accommodate everyone downtown. The sooner everyone realizes that and agrees to work together to create a balance of what we can and can’t accommodate, the better.
4) Ports Authority spends $29K on Panama Trip – The Nerve